Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Genealogy in some Serious History

I am taking a bleary-eyed break from composing a grant application for a $500 undergraduate research scholarship to talk a little bit about using genealogy in some academically serious history.

As mentioned in my profile over there ----->, I am a History and Spanish major at the University of North Florida, concentrating on Spanish Colonial Florida. That interest is already proving to be a small bit remunerative, as I have a forthcoming book on the colonial, territorial, and state censuses of Florida, to be published later this year (as soon as I can finish the proofreading and the construction of the index!) . The project I'm planning for this scholarship, which would fund work to be done as a directed independent study under my major professor, Dr. J. Michael Francis in the Department of History at UNF, is designed to be a study of the social, economic, political, and military history of St. Augustine during the Second Spanish Period (1783-1820), using the methods and sources of genealogy.

Having written the abovementioned book on the censuses of Florida, I am already familiar with the extant Spanish colonial censuses which can be accessed from within the state of Florida. Other original sources I plan to use include military records, church records (of the Diocese of St. Augustine, and including BMDB), newspaper records, land records, tax records, letters, memoirs, and court records. Most of these are part of the East Florida Papers, a collection of papers siezed by the United States forces taking over Florida in 1820, when Spain ceded the territory to the U.S. The originals of these papers are in the Library of Congress, but they have been microfilmed and are available locally.

Other sources, such as Spanish land grants of the period, are digitized and online from the Florida State Archive. And the church records are available at the Diocesan archive in St. Augustine, the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History in Gainesville, and the Florida State Archive in Tallahassee.

The focus will be on the families of St. Augustine, but instead of following one line vertically through time, as we usually do, I am going to follow several families horizontally within a very short (genealogically speaking) span of 37 years. Through the experiences and travails of these families, documented in the abovementioned records, I hope to reconstruct a more intimate and complex picture of the history of St. Augustine during this period. I will also, of course, be using the records of history and archaeology.

It is quite a project. Even if I do not succeed in securing a scholarship, I will go ahead with the directed independent study, Dr. Francis and the university willing, because it will add to my own stock of knowledge about the Spanish lineages of Florida, which I am choosing as my genealogical specialty, and I am very sure I can get another book out of it! That alone is reason enough to go through with the project, scholarship or no.

I'll let you know if I am successful in securing the grant.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

SNGF: Favorite Song of All Time?

(Cue announcer . . .)

Live, from Genea-Musings! It's Saturday Night!

Yup, it's time once again for Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. Here's the deal tonight:

"Here is your assignment for the evening - if you wish to participate in the Fun (cue the Mission Impossible music):

1. What is your all-time favorite song? Yep, number 1. It's hard to choose sometimes. If you made your favorite all-time Top 40 music selections, what would be #1?

2. Tell us about it. Why is it a favorite? Do you have special memories attached to this song?

3. Write your own blog post about it, or make a comment on this post or on the Facebook entry."

Mine is: "The Wedding Song," sung by Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. And, yes, sadly I do know that Mary Travers died recently. She's missed.

So why is it my favorite? For one thing, it's a lovely song. Nobody's shouting at me, screaming unintelligible lyrics at the top of a very strained-sounding voice. That is one aspect of popular music I cannot stand. For another, Paul plays a mean guitar, and it's beautiful. I love a good acoustic guitar. And for another, my husband and I were always fond of "Pizza, Pooh, and Magpie," as he and his sister affectionately called the group that was so much a part of our young lives.

And for another, one time many years ago, I was in training at the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia, some 1500 miles away from home and husband. I was feeling right blue and lonely, and I went into the enlisted club to have a drink. And there on the small stage, really just a very slightly raised dais, was a guy with a guitar, singing "The Wedding Song." Perked me right up, and made me feel warm and fuzzy, thinking about how much my husband loves me and I him. It was the cure for the blues.

It wasn't difficult to pick that as my favorite; no other song has quite the kind of meaning for me. Then, too, I favor instrumental music, and tend to listen more to classical music than anything else. But this one, such a simple and beautiful song that speaks of very simple and beautiful meaning in life, is way above all others.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mr. I Want It Now

In the class I'm taking at the University of North Florida called Interpreting Hispanic Literature, we read an essay by the critical/satirical Spanish essayist Mariano José de Larra (1809-1837), titled "Vuelva Usted Mañana" (Come Back Tomorrow), which was written in 1835.  The point of the essay is to skewer what Larra saw as Spanish indolence and bureaucratic obstructionism.  In this narrative-dramatic essay, Larra's alter ego, whom he refers to as Figaro, has a guest, a Frenchman whom he calls in French Monsieur Sans-délai (Mister Without Delay) or in Spanish Señor Lo-quiero-en-seguida (Mister I Want It Now).  The Frenchman has come to Spain to file some sort of claim having to do with his familial affiliations before the courts.  In one early paragraph. the action proceeds, in my translation, in a way that sounds eerily familiar nearly two hundred years later:

 ". . . Tomorrow morning, we'll go looking for a genealogist to handle my family matters, that afternoon, he will consult his books, search for my ancestors, and by tomorrow night I will know who I am."  Never mind Larra's opinion of Spanish indolence, there's no way any genealogist worth paying was going to find the Frenchman's family that quickly in 1835, unless he was the King's first cousin!  My young classmates wondered why I was chuckling as we went over the essay.  "Soy genealogista," I told them.  I am a genealogist.

It seems like some things never change.  Some people new to genealogical investigation become Mr. (or Mrs. or Miss or Ms., take your pick of the feminine appelations) I Want It Now.  They come into it with the idea that it won't take very long at all and they -- or someone they engage to do the investigating -- will have all the answers, and very quickly.  Alll they have to do is consult their books, right?

Bzzzt!  Wrong answer, but thank you for playing.   Those of us who have been in it any length of time have been disabused of that notion.  I certainly was, when I discovered that -- horrors! -- there are errors in books about genealogical lineages.  And when I ran into my first brick wall that took some years to break through. 

But sometimes I wonder if some genealogical websites and magazines and software programs aren't exaggerating just a little -- maybe this much >< -- when they promise if not the moon, at least more stars than really can be delivered.  Not that this is as serious a problem now as it was several years ago, as I recollect.  I do think that the main websites and the big magazines and the software programs have, for instance, become more aware of the importance of proper sourcing, to the extent that there are articles and seminars on source citation, and most of the more popular and well-known software packages use Elizabeth Shown Mills's citation models.  This is a good thing.

And I am aware that advertisement will always be with us (sometimes I add the word "alas" to that phrase), and that we have come to expect a certain level of hyperbole in it.  Fortunately, there is an antidote to that hyperbole, and that antidote is the presence of genealogical societies at the national, state, and local levels, which provide solid guidance through newsletters, journals, monthly meetings, seminars, and other programs to set the new family historian's feet on the right path.    When I think of the programs and speakers and other features of my own genealogy society, I become Mrs. I Want It Now!

So . . . have you hugged your genealogy society today?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Ahnentafel Roulette!

Randy Seaver, of Genea-Musings has created his latest Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. Our instructions:

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission Impossible music, please!):

1) How old is your father now, or how old would he be if he had lived? Divide this number by 4 and round the number off to a whole number. This is your "roulette number."

2) Use your pedigree charts or your family tree genealogy software program to find the person with that number in your ahnentafel. Who is that person?

3) Tell us three facts about that person with the "roulette number."

4) Write about it in a blog post on your own blog, in a Facebook note or comment, or as a comment on this blog post.

5) If you do not have a person's name for your "roulette number" then spin the wheel again - pick your mother, or yourself, a favorite aunt or cousin, or even your children!

If my father were alive, he would be 98 (born 29 April 1911). 98 divided by 4 is 24.75, so we'll round off to 25. Number 25 in my Ahnentafel is my great-great grandmother Clarissa Haney Wright, born 19 July 1844 in Xenia, Green County, Ohio.

Three facts about Clarissa:

1. She married my great-great grandfather Charles Reed 16 September 1860 in Jay County, Indiana.

2. She lived with her widowed father and siblings just a few houses down from the family of Vinson Nidey, which had a lodger -- Charles Reed, who would soon be her husband.

3. She bore Charles Reed 14 children, 13 of whom lived into adulthood.

I don't really know that much about her, but I sure want to know more!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Treasure Chest Thursday: Treasured in Memory

When I was a young girl, I went over to my grandma Mary LeSourd Reed's house one day. We were in her bedroom, where she had opened her cedar chest, a plain-looking chest with a tapestry runner on top. In the chest were a number of items, including an old christening gown, bits of tatted lace, and the photograph which appears here.

The baby in the photograph was Wilmer LeSueur Reed, her oldest child, who died in infancy. She told me that he could not keep his food down. When I obtained his death certificate from the city of Chicago, where he died 13 October 1909 at just under one year old, I discovered his cause of death to have been ruled an acute gastritis.

Through my grandma and my mother, I came into possession of the cedar chest and its contents. The christening gown is still in it, as are the pieces of tatted lace. I've added my own items to it. The photograph is on one of my bookcases.

The cedar chest to me was a treasure chest of family history. The christening gown in the chest is the one in the picture, and it also appears in a photograph of Wilmer's younger sister Elizabeth, who was born 10 December 1909, about two months after Wilmer died. She lived into adulthood, and served as a public health nurse and Director of Health Information for the State of Florida in the 1950s and 1960s.

Wilmer lives on a little bit in me, as his middle name was given me as my middle name. It is always sad when a baby dies, but Wilmer always lived in his mother's memory, and he lives still in my middle name and in the photo on my bookshelf.

That's a family treasure.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Historic Days

Thomas McEntee suggested in his Geneabloggers e-mail today that we blog about how we remember 9/11. I'm going to go a little farther afield and talk about significant historical days in three generations.

For my parents, the watershed day was 7 December 1941. My father, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (1934), had been medically retired about 1939 due to a service-connected disability. He was a naval aviator with the rank of Lieutenant when he was retired. He was called back to active duty in October of 1941. There had to have been knowledge that something was afoot, if the Navy was calling the medically retired back to active duty. My father was ordered to report to Naval Air Station Miami, Florida. He took up his duties as a Naval aviator once again, and that was his status when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place.

Not long after that, something like two months, he was found, because of the disability for which he had been retired, to be not fit to fly, and was grounded. That has to have broken his heart, for my mother said that he loved flying, and in fact, he had been a member of his school's Aero Club in high school, in Pasadena, California. But he also loved the Navy, and would do his duty, wherever the Navy sent him. He was made a flight instructor. He became the lead flight instructor at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Still, even as a grounded pilot, he was ranked by his commanding officers within the top 5% of Naval aviators on his fitness reports.

One of his Naval Academy classmates, a man for whom my brother had been given his nickname of Ned, died at Pearl Harbor. My father eventually was sent to the Empire Flying School in England, outside of London in a district called Hullavington, to learn the tactics the British had developed in fighting the Germans in the air, and to bring those lessons back to his students at NAS Jacksonville. That was in 1944. After the war was over, my father retired, this time at the rank of Commander.

For my generation, the watershed day was 22 November 1963. I was in the tenth grade at duPont High School in Jacksonville, FL. Enrolled in the college-prep track, I had elected to take shorthand because I thought it would help me in note-taking in college classes. I was in shorthand class that day, when the news came. We had a substitute teacher that day, as our regular teacher, a delightful woman named Mrs. Love, was ill. One of the girls had gone to the office on an errand, and came back, ashen-faced and subdued. Then the loud-speaker system was turned on school-wide, and we heard the news that the president had been shot. At that point, the substitute teacher showed me that she was -- to put a nice face on it -- shallow and self-absorbed. She didn't worry about the president or about the country, but about her stock portfolio. I was negatively impressed.

School was let out, and I drove home (having just got my license the previous spring). Later on, I got in the car, which I had parked in front of the fourplex apartment building where my mother and I lived, getting ready to drive to the hospital where my mother worked, to pick her up. At that point, an elderly woman came walking quickly down the driveway between buildings, hailing me. She asked for a ride, with a thick foreign accent, which I judged to be Eastern European. "Where you go?" she asked. I said I was going to pick my mom up from work. She said she needed to go to a place near the hospital, and I gave her a ride. I turned on the radio to hear further developments, and we shared our shock and grief at what had happened. We were both worried and frightened. I think on that day, we all wanted to reach out to others.

I spent the weekend watching the developments on TV, and there, at the age of 16, I witnessed a murder as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. It was a dark and frightening weekend.

For my daughters, the watershed day was 11 September 2001. My younger daughter worked for a large national bank, in the adjustments department. I was at home, doing some daily chores, and had the television off, because I have a very low opinion of daytime television. My daughter called me and told me to turn on the TV. I turned it on and saw one of the Twin Towers burning, and not long after that, the other airplane came and plowed into the other tower. I was horrified. It was without doubt the worst thing I had seen on television since that awful weekend in November of 1963.

Here again was a day in which we all wanted to reach out to each other, to cut across the artificial divisions which have become too important to too many people, and which really do not matter at all. It is a divided world in many ways, these days, over things which, in the great cosmic scheme of things, aren't that important. And we have allowed these superficial divisions to take on labels which are used to frighten, control, and divide us further, when we should be concentrating on the things which unite us, and the things which are important for today and the future.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Madness Monday -- Where was Ida Dewey?

A couple months ago, I posted a Madness Monday about Samuel Rhoades/Rhodes, who is driving me nuts because I cannot find him anywhere! He isn't in censuses, except for one possibility. I haven't found a marriage record or death record. He's definitely a man of mystery. His wife is not as mysterious, but I'm having a hard time finding her, too.

The best mention I have of Samuel is in his son Andrew Lewis Rhodes's Railroad Retirement papers. Andrew states that his parents were Samuel Rhoades (spelled that way; Andrew spelled it Rhodes, and that's the way we spell it today) and Ida Mae Dewey. Andrew indicated with a question mark that he did not know his father's middle initial. That was on a form dated 19 November 1938. On a later form, from 1952, Andrew gave his father's name as Samuel H. Rhodes (without the "a"). The individual I found on the 1870 census is Samuel H. Rhoades, with his family in Ohio, in the same town where the family of Ida Mae Dewey lived. This is the strongest possibility.

But between that 1870 census and the 1900 census in which she is the wife of Andrew Shuster, with her younger son Harley in the house, I cannot find Ida Dewey. So the search continues, as does the madness. I hope someday to travel to Ohio (I have family history research to do in Illinois and Indiana, too) and clear up this mystery once and for all.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Fave Blogs

Randy Seaver, over at Genea-Musings, is at it again. His instructions for tonight's fun:

The assignment for this Saturday Night, should you choose to accept it (cue the Mission Impossible music again), is:

1) Identify three of your favorite genealogy blogs to nominate for the Family Tree 40 list, and fill out the nomination form for them.

2) Tell us which three you chose, and a reason why you chose it, in a blog post on your own blog, in comments to this post, or in a Note or comments to this post on Facebook.

3) For purposes of this assignment, please don't name Genea-Musings as one of your three (obviously, I would be honored to be nominated, and you can do so at your pleasure). What I'm hoping is that by writing about three of your favorite genealogy blogs, that you will introduce many blog readers to more outstanding blogs, for the benefit of all of us.

Good. Here are my nominations, though there are others I like, too, and it wasn't that easy a choice:

1. The Professional Descendant. For one thing, that's a great title for a genealogy blog. For another, it's entertaining as well as informative. I don't know yet whether I have Scots roots (one family name could be Scot, English, or Irish, and I haven't gotten back that far yet), but I enjoy reading the blog entries.

2. Genealogy's Star. James Tanner's blog is short but to the point. He provides excellent information about new developments in genealogy. He is the go-to guy for information on the latest developments over at This is a power blog!

3. West in New England. I have to confess that Bill West, the blogger, has turned out to be a cousin of mine, related through collateral kin in my father's line from Massachusetts. One of the reasons I enjoy the blog is that relationship to New England. But the blog posts are entertaining, and he occasionally does some fun stuff like the "Write Your Own Lyrics" contest he had recently.

There are my three (I may go back and nominate more, if I have time). Go nominate your favorites! And go back and vote beginning 5 October.

And if mine is one of them, thank you!


First ProGen4 Assignment - A Mission Statement

Our first assignment in ProGen4 is to write a mission statement for our genealogical enterprise. Many of my ProGen4 classmates are doing client work. That isn't my cup of tea for a bevy of reasons; my preference is to speak and write. I enjoy running my mouth about genealogy, and I enjoy the solitary pursuits of research and writing.

I am ambivalent about the idea of a mission statement. While I recognize that a clear statement of purpose can be a powerful guide in any endeavor, I also have seen a lot of awful, pretentious, overblown, windy mission statements that really sound more like something to make the potential customer (or patient or student or whatever) feel good about you rather than to provide any clear statement of purpose. And there is an awful lot of "California touchy-feely school," as one fellow Coast Guard officer I once served with put it, in what has been written about mission statements. (And don't anyone jump on me for that characterization; I was born in California!)

And it too frequently happens that the windy, overblown, feel-good mission statement is not adhered to all that well, but rather is nothing more than window dressing. That is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

So the other day, as my daughter and I were coming home from the university (she works there), we talked about mission statements. Neither one of us is generally impressed, as my daughter has many of the same reservations I do about them. However, the discussion got me thinking, and while we were talking about that and other things, my back brain was working away, and I came up with this:

My mission as a genealogical speaker and writer is to produce presentations and write books and articles for audiences interested in genealogy, to inform them about sources and methods which will help them be more effective in their genealogical research.

What do you think? Let me know. This mission statement will be critiqued by my fellow ProGen4 students, and I like more input.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

ProGen4 - First Day

Yesterday was my first day in the ProGen Study Group. For those who don't know what ProGen is, it is an online study group based on the book Professional Genealogy, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills. We have reading assignments in the book, and have an online group discussion for one hour each month. We also have assigned homework, which we post in the forum and receive feedback from fellow participants.

We had our first discussion chat yesterday, and it went very well. We have our first assignment, too, which I will be working on in the next week or two, in between doing papers, taking quizzes, and doing a ton of reading in my university courses. It isn't due until the 30th, but I like to get some things done early, to make way for other things I need to get done!

The course was designed by professional genealogists to give upcoming genealogists -- who may or may not already be in practice in one way or another -- a leg up in our personal development and professional education. Subjects treated in the course -- and, of course, in the book -- range from ethics to research techniques to report-writing to business practices, and more. Most, if not all, of us aspire to certification as well. That's another journey I am beginning, and will be the subject of other blog posts.

Anyone who is practicing genealogy -- whether for themselves or for others, whether for pay or as a volunteer -- should read Professional Genealogy. It is an education.